The Reader Magazine Fri, 24 Oct 2014 16:35:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Together: How The Cooperative Model Withstands The Crisis Thu, 23 Oct 2014 11:15:02 +0000

The new documentary by CECOP – CICOPA Europe from Cicopa Coop on Vimeo.

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Chris Hedges: The Culture of War Sun, 19 Oct 2014 20:19:53 +0000

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Video: Russell Reads from his book “Revolution” Sun, 19 Oct 2014 19:03:57 +0000

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ProPublica Investigation: Deadly Force, in Black and White Sat, 11 Oct 2014 00:12:44 +0000 Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater i, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.

The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica’s analysis shows, is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185, more than one per week.

ProPublica’s risk analysis on young males killed by police certainly seems to support what has been an article of faith in the African American community for decades: Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population.

Our examination involved detailed accounts of more than 12,000 police homicides stretching from 1980 to 2012 contained in the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report. The data, annually self-reported by hundreds of police departments across the country, confirms some assumptions, runs counter to others, and adds nuance to a wide range of questions about the use of deadly police force.

Colin Loftin, University at Albany professor and co-director of the Violence Research Group, said the FBI data is a minimum count of homicides by police, and that it is impossible to precisely measure what puts people at risk of homicide by police without more and better records. Still, what the data shows about the race of victims and officers, and the circumstances of killings, are “certainly relevant,” Loftin said.

“No question, there are all kinds of racial disparities across our criminal justice system,” he said. “This is one example.”

The FBI’s data has appeared in news accounts over the years, and surfaced again with the August killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. To a great degree, observers and experts lamented the limited nature of the FBI’s reports. Their shortcomings are inarguable.

The data, for instance, is terribly incomplete. Vast numbers of the country’s 17,000 police departments don’t file fatal police shooting reports at all, and many have filed reports for some years but not others. Florida departments haven’t filed reports since 1997 and New York City last reported in 2007. Information contained in the individual reports can also be flawed. Still, lots of the reporting police departments are in larger cities, and at least 1000 police departments filed a report or reports over the 33 years.

There is, then, value in what the data can show while accepting, and accounting for, its limitations. Indeed, while the absolute numbers are problematic, a comparison between white and black victims shows important trends. Our analysis included dividing the number of people of each race killed by police by the number of people of that race living in the country at the time, to produce two different rates: the risk of getting killed by police if you are white and if you are black.

David Klinger, a University of Missouri-St. Louis professor and expert on police use of deadly force, said racial disparities in the data could result from “measurement error,” meaning that the unreported killings could alter ProPublica’s findings.

However, he said the disparity between black and white teenage boys is so wide, “I doubt the measurement error would account for that.”

ProPublica spent weeks digging into the many rich categories of information the reports hold: the race of the officers involved; the circumstances cited for the use of deadly force; the age of those killed.


Who Gets Killed?

The finding that young black men are 21 times as likely as their white peers to be killed by police is drawn from reports filed for the years 2010 to 2012, the three most recent years for which FBI numbers are available.

The black boys killed can be disturbingly young. There were 41 teens 14 years or younger reported killed by police from 1980 to 2012 ii. 27 of them were black iii; 8 were white iv; 4 were Hispanic v and 1 was Asian vi.

That’s not to say officers weren’t killing white people. Indeed, some 44 percent of all those killed by police across the 33 years were white.

White or black, though, those slain by police tended to be roughly the same age. The average age of blacks killed by police was 30. The average age of whites was 35.

Who is killing all those black men and boys?

Mostly white officers. But in hundreds of instances, black officers, too. Black officers account for a little more than 10 percent of all fatal police shootings. Of those they kill, though, 78 percent were black.

White officers, given their great numbers in so many of the country’s police departments, are well represented in all categories of police killings. White officers killed 91 percent of the whites who died at the hands of police. And they were responsible for 68 percent of the people of color killed. Those people of color represented 46 percent of all those killed by white officers.

What were the circumstances surrounding all these fatal encounters?

There were 151 instances in which police noted that teens they had shot dead had been fleeing or resisting arrest at the time of the encounter. 67 percent of those killed in such circumstances were black. That disparity was even starker in the last couple of years: of the 15 teens shot fleeing arrest from 2010 to 2012, 14 were black.

Did police always list the circumstances of the killings? No, actually, there were many deadly shooting where the circumstances were listed as “undetermined.” 77 percent of those killed in such instances were black.

Certainly, there were instances where police truly feared for their lives.

Of course, although the data show that police reported that as the cause of their actions in far greater numbers after the 1985 Supreme Court decision that said police could only justify using deadly force if the suspects posed a threat to the officer or others. From 1980 to 1984, “officer under attack” was listed as the cause for 33 percent of the deadly shootings. Twenty years later, looking at data from 2005 to 2009, “officer under attack” was cited in 62 percent xxxvii of police killings.

Does the data include cases where police killed people with something other than a standard service handgun?

Yes, and the Los Angeles Police Department stood out in its use of shotguns. Most police killings involve officers firing handguns xl. But from 1980 to 2012, 714 involved the use of a shotgun xli. The Los Angeles Police Department has a special claim on that category. It accounted for 47 cases xlii in which an officer used a shotgun. The next highest total came from the Dallas Police Department: 14 xliii.

i ProPublica calculated a statistical figure called a risk ratio by dividing the rate of black homicide victims by the rate of white victims. This ratio, commonly used in epidemiology, gives an estimate for how much more at risk black teenagers were to be killed by police officers.Risk ratios can have varying levels of precision, depending on a variety of mathematical factors. In this case, because such shootings are rare from a statistical perspective, a 95 percent confidence interval indicates that black teenagers are at between 10 and 40 times greater risk of being killed by a police officer. The calculation used 2010-2012 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.







xl Calculated from the “Weapon Used by Offender” variable. Ranked based on frequency of reported shotgun homicides by police agencies.




Courtesy of ProPublica, Oct. 10, 2014, 11:07 a.m.

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Get The Muck Out Sat, 11 Oct 2014 00:03:26 +0000 The DEA impersonated a woman on Facebook without her knowledge, and the Justice Department is OK with that. A federal agent created the fake profile, posting private photos seized from a suspect’s cell phone and posing as her to friends online. A U.S. attorney defended the agent’s actions as serving “a legitimate law enforcement purpose,” but one legal scholar said the incident “reeks of misrepresentation, fraud, and invasion of privacy.” Less than 24 hours after BuzzFeed’s story ran, the Justice Department said it was reviewing the matter.   — BuzzFeed via @AzmatZahra

Public records to go? That’ll be $132,348.  That’s how much a court in Florida proposed charging the Center for Public Integrity for access to foreclosure-related documents. As the center reports, “charging high fees for access to public information can undermine public records laws and serve as a back-door way for government agencies to avoid releasing information they want kept private.” They’re still waiting on a waiver.  — Center for Public Integrity via @alifitzg

— The Washington Post via @Bzdekv

California water officials urge conservation (except their own). The Center for Investigative Reporting requested personal water bills for California officials who oversee water rates and policies, and found that nearly half consumed more water than a typical household. “Even as their agencies scolded ratepayers on conservation, 60 percent of these officials used more water in 2013 than they had in 2012,” CIR reports. — Center for Investigative Reporting via @katiasav

World health leaders underestimated Ebola crisis for months before declaring an emergency. “This is relatively small still,” a spokesman for the World Health Organization said in March, even as Guinea health officials warned of a “rapidly evolving outbreak.” It took another five months for WHO to declare a global health crisis. This is what happened in the meantime— The Washington Post via @dabeard

Inside Florida’s foreclosure rescue fraud. The Herald-Tribune combed through thousands of foreclosure records and court documents to uncover $550 million lost to foreclosure scammers in the last five years across the nation, including an estimated $32 million in Florida. But as foreclosure rescue scams have exploded, law enforcement efforts haven’t kept up. —   Herald-Tribune via @JoshSalman

Reposted from ProPublica (

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Head of Flawed Effort to ID Missing Soldiers Loses Job Fri, 10 Oct 2014 23:54:29 +0000 The longtime scientific director of the problem-ridden Pentagon agency charged with identifying the remains of service members missing from past wars is out of a job.

At a recent Korean War family update meeting in Washington, Tom Holland announced he would soon be leaving as head of the laboratory at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or J-PAC.

Holland’s impending departure is the first leadership change to come to light as part of the major overhaul of the mission announced by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel last spring in response to increasing criticism. J-PAC and a second agency involved in the effort will be consolidated starting Jan. 1 in an effort to streamline the inefficient process. An investigation by ProPublica and NPR in March found the agency’s efforts to be rife with outdated science, duplicative bureaucracy and poor leadership.

Holland, who led the lab for nearly 20 years, was the focus of ProPublica’s story, which found he served as an arbiter of identifications and established procedures that set an exceedingly slow pace at the lab. With 9,400 service members still buried as unknowns around the world, his restrictive policies were seen as overly cautious.  Under his leadership, only one out of every 10 cases considered was ever approved for disinterment to attempt identification.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost wouldn’t comment on personnel moves.

Under the new organization, a medical examiner will oversee identifications and scientific operations, but that person has not yet been named. Derrick-Frost said they expect someone to be in place by late 2014 or early 2015.

The appointment of a medical examiner to the lab’s top leadership position has been met with protest by some of the scientific staff, who claimed in a letter to the Pentagon that a medical examiner isn’t qualified to oversee their work.

The MIA effort will be in flux until January 2016 when the new, as-yet-unnamed agency is fully operational. Some advocates, families of MIAs and politicians are concerned the reorganization will be little more than reshuffling of bureaucracy and are watching carefully to see what meaningful change is enacted.

At the August meeting, Holland said that the last identification he thinks he’ll make will be of remains from the Korean War, leaving recently unearthed remains from WWII to likely be identified by the medical examiner— including one who could possibly be Arthur “Bud” Kelder, whose family never gave up trying  to find and identify his remains.

In August, the Pentagon completed the disinterment of 10 unknown prisoners of war from an American World War II cemetery in Manila, where Kelder’s family believed him to be buried.

The crucial step of exhuming the men, who had buried anonymously for nearly 70 years after dying on the same day at a POW camp, came only after Kelder’s family fought for years to force the government to act.

by Megan McCloskey  ProPublica, Oct. 3, 2014, 10:32 a.m.

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Thousands Protest Massacre Fri, 10 Oct 2014 23:34:41 +0000 A national day of action in protest against the disappearance and massacre of 43 education students in Mexico occurred on Wednesday, Oct. 8. The national teachers’ union made the call to protest, which was answered in 59 cities in Mexico and included a silent march organized by the Zapatistas in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Protests occurred all over the world, including Canada.

The college students from the Mexican community of Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero, 43 of whom were disappeared from a bus on Sept. 26, were studying to be teachers and protesting the starvation of the public system they were planning to work in. The bus was ambushed by police, probably on orders from officials in the nearby city of Iguala, Guerrero, from the director of Seguridad Publica (Public Security), Francisco Salgado Valladeres, and the mayor, José Luis Abarca. Both of these men are currently on the run. Six people were killed in the ambush, among them people on an unrelated bus, which was mistaken for a bus with student protesters and was actually carrying a soccer team.

An unknown number of bodies, 34 at last count, almost certainly belonging to these students, were unearthed in a mass grave in Iguala. The bodies had signs of torture and were probably burned alive.

Randal Archibold, writing in the New York Times, put forward the theory that the police were a part of a gang, or passed the kidnapped students on to a gang, which was strange because the students “were not known to have criminal ties.”

Canadian journalist and author Dawn Paley, currently studying in Mexico, writes, “The killers in Iguala were not drug gangs. They were cops and paramilitaries. Paramilitaries are non-state armed groups who work with state forces. There can be no clearer example of the horrors of state and paramilitary violence than what has happened to these students.” This massacre, Paley notes, is far from the only mass grave in Mexico. The New York Timesreport went so far as to say the country was “accustomed to mass killings.”

All of these issues are linked — drugs, crime, corruption and politics — but the key context for these killings is the use of state violence, up to mass murder, to manage social protest and to dismantle the public sphere. In this case, the attack focused on an embattled network of rural teacher education that has survived only through student mobilization, that seeks to serveMexico’s rural population of 28 million, 20 million of whom live in extreme poverty.

The first escuelas normales were established in Mexico in the 1920s. They were a part of the country’s distant revolutionary history, where the goal was to bring public education to Mexico’s countryside and to create schools that would educate teachers and rural leaders among Mexico’s peasants. They were explicitly based on inculcating values of democracy and self-governance.

Historian Tanalis Padilla has described a pattern of violence against normalistas over many decades in La Jornada, concluding that “the lives of normalistas seem to have little value.”

The state and police certainly have acted that way. Unless people in Mexico and their friends outside, including here in Canada, prove them wrong, we can expect more Ayotzinapas.

Courtesy of ZCommunications, 18 Millfield St., Woods Hole, MA, USA, 02543

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Solutions to American Poverty Fri, 10 Oct 2014 23:08:44 +0000 From the print edition of The Reader Magazine •

You’ll have heard of Robin Hood. Took from the rich, gave to the poor. Looked a bit like Russell Crowe meets Kevin Costner.  Well, the Robin Hood tax follows the same logic. Except for ‘rich’ read Wall Street, the big banks and investment [firms] houses. And for the ‘poor’ read everyone else, ordinary Americans, and the jobs, healthcare, education and infrastructure we all count on.

This tiny tax of less than half of 1% a percent on financial sector transactions can generate hundreds of billions each year in the US alone—economists estimate as much as $350 billion.


Basically, what we’re after is a tax that raises hundreds of billions of dollars annually from the financial sector, to reframe our economy, stop austerity policies that are cutting public services, and help in the global fight against poverty, AIDS and other diseases, and climate change.

We think the best way to do this is a Financial Speculation (or Transaction) Tax (FST/FTT). This is a tiny tax of less than half a percent on trades in derivatives, stocks, bonds, and foreign currency exchange. With an FTT, each time a financial product is traded, a tiny percentage (between 0.005% and 0.5%) of the value of the trade is collected in tax.

You can think of it as a sales tax – the sort of taxes we all pay when buying clothes or other goods. In fact, for every $100 ordinary Americans spend on goods they pay $9.64 in taxes. What a Robin Hood Tax asks for is that when the big banks and investment funds are trading they pay a tiny tax of less than 50 cents on ¢$100 of trades. Surely not too much to ask?

This type of tax is well-tested, cheap to implement and hard to avoid. In fact, there are already lots of different transaction taxes implemented by 40 countries, even a very limited one here in the US that funds the Securities and Trades Commission. They all work on the same principle: taxing every transaction a very small amount. We think there should be a lot more of them, particularly in areas not yet taxed, like currency transactions and derivatives. If we were to apply this broadly, it’d make the tax system a lot fairer.

Importantly, transaction taxes are also good in that they would reduce the amount of the most risky transactions, the sort of gambling which helped to trigger the financial crisis. It is this sort of speculation that drove the economic crisis and pushes up gas and food prices in the U.S. and around the world.


The financial crisis, started on Wall Street, and the Recession that followed, have left a massive hole in our economy, and resulted in the loss of jobs, homes, and devastating cuts in public programs. Many other developed and developing countries face a similar struggle.

So our merry band of Robin Hood supporters believe that banks, hedge funds and the rest of the financial sector should pay to clean up the mess they helped create and to make Wall Street begin to pay it’s fair share in tax.


The financial crisis and recession have left a massive hole in the US’s public finances, hitting front line services, jobs and homes. The largest recession of a generation has had a disastrous impact in the US, driving millions into poverty and put many more at risk. Around the world it has pushed more than 2 million people below the $2 a day poverty line.

We’re calling for a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street to generate hundreds of billions of dollars every year in needed revenue for Main Street. The money raised will generate jobs and strengthen public services like health care, education and infrastructure at home while tackling AIDS, global health, poverty and climate challenges around the world.

It’s time to stop talking about what to cut and start talking about how to invest in our future. In the US here’s what an amount like that could achieve: Fund an additional 9 million jobs, reducing unemployment by a whopping 60%. Save more than 1.75 million homes from foreclosure.  Ensure that 41 million families have the healthcare they need and aren’t pushed into bankruptcy.

The consequences of the financial crisis have been serious in the US but they have been even worse in more vulnerable countries that did nothing to cause it. Just a small portion of the hundreds of billions from a Robin Hood tax could change many people’s lives forever:

$6.5 billion puts every child on earth in primary school
$6 billion gets all those in need on AIDS treatment and puts us on track to literally end the AIDS crisis globally

Climate Change + Green Jobs

A tragic parallel between climate change and the financial crisis is that those least responsible suffer the most. While rich countries and powerful corporations, many with ties to the financial sector, have produced most of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, poorer countries are expected to bear 75-80% of the costs in adapting to these.

$ 2 billion could pay for 1333 wind turbines to provide clean energy. $11 billion could pay for the whole of Haiti to adapt to flooding


Because it’s responsible for a big part of the mess we’re in.
Because it has an obligation to all of us to help clean it up.
Because it is the most profitable industry on earth.
Because it is historically under taxed – so it can afford to pay a little more. Because the financial sector has returned to record profits and bonuses.

Because the amount of money transferred from the American public to the financial sector adds up to the biggest resource transfer in U.S. history.  Because the revenue that went to the Wall Street bailouts could have helped Main Street communities with public investments in infrastructure, healthcare, education, housing, and the green economy, critical resources that could have mitigated the effects of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Because a Robin Hood tax on Wall Street spent in Main Street communities would have a ripple effect in expanding the national economy through productive investment.

Because the IMF and many other financial commentators believe that the financial sector is under taxed, and has grown to become dangerously large and destabilising for the global economy, as we saw when the crisis hit in 2008. A Robin Hood Tax would discourage the riskiest of these casino transactions.

Because it’s time for the financial sector to make a greater contribution to the society it serves and benefits from.


A safe, locally accountable, and healthy financial sector is essential to our economic prosperity as it provides necessary credit to small businesses and individuals and provides main street banking services.

But this tax will have minimal impact on the majority of the financial sector. Certainly it will not affect retail banking, which includes savings and mortgages. It will instead introduce a micro-tax on short-term, casino-style trading which employs a small number of highly paid bankers on Wall Street and in hedge funds, not the tens of thousands employed in Main Street financial services.

Unfettered by regulation, a distinct area of the financial sector – namely casino-style trading, the worst of which is the high frequency trading – has grown out of control. Studies show that a Robin Hood Tax would shrink this market – an area that has grown again to be even bigger than it was before the crash. By taxing this area of business we can raise much needed revenue and help to rebalance our economy away from our over-reliance on Wall Street.



It is the most profitable industry on earth, twenty eight times more profitable than the oil or gas industry. As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others have noted it is also historically under-taxed.

From 1929 to 2010, the finance sector totalled more than $22.4 trillion in profits, according to the Institute for Health and Socio-Economy Policy (IHSP). It now accounts for more than 30% of all corporate profits, more than double its levels in the 1980s.

To top it off, this same sector benefited from the largest bailout in U.S. history, ranging on, by some accounts from $7 trillion to over $20 trillion. It’s now time for them to start paying society back.

With their disproportionate dominance of the finance sector, the giants, the ‘too big to fail’ crowd, would pay the largest amount of the modest Robin Hood taxes.


No, because financial transaction taxes are targeted at casino banking operations they can easily be designed in a way that protects the investments of ordinary people and businesses. Traders can also be legally barred from passing on costs to consumers.

The IMF has studied who will end up paying transaction taxes, and has concluded that they would in all likelihood be ‘highly progressive’. This means the richest institutions and individuals in society would pay by far the predominant amount of the tax, in a similar way to capital gains tax. This is in contrast to sales taxes, which fall disproportionately on working people and those with the lowest incomes.

Just like other taxes, specific exemptions and punitive measures can be built in to protect, for example, lending operating capital to businesses.


This is a common misperception, one that is promoted by those from the financial sector who oppose the Robin Hood tax.

The short answer is no. As the IMF says, financial transaction taxes (FTTs) ‘do not automatically drive out financial activity to an unacceptable extent.’

The highly automated and centralised nature of many financial transactions and design of a Robin Hood tax (or Financial Transaction tax to use the technical term) means it would be very hard to avoid, and easy to collect. More than 70% goes through computerised central clearing houses

meaning the tax would be very easy to monitor and very difficult to evade.

This tax is not just a great idea, it’s a brilliant reality. The mechanism of a Robin Hood Tax (financial transaction tax) has been place of decades in more than forty countries around the world including the UK, Brazil and Japan.

There are many reasons banks would not leave the US, not least that they need a big enough government that they know will bail them out if things go wrong. There are not many governments with the ability or willingness to provide this implicit guarantee, certainly the Cayman Islands or even Switzerland isn’t going to bail out Bank of America.

Time zones are critical for financial transactions. This means that banks and other financial institutions cannot all move to Switzerland or Hong Kong.

Additionally, relocation of a big bank itself would be very expensive and is highly unlikely just to avoid a small tax.


In a word: yes. In fact they have been introduced on a temporary or permanent basis over many decades in some 40 countries, including the fastest growing economies in the world, without driving business away.

The best example of this is in the UK, where there is a financial transaction tax on share transactions. The UK’s major competitors do not have this and there certainly is no global agreement, yet it is a successful FTT that raises around $4.7 billion each year without a significant loss of business from the UK. London remains one of the biggest stock markets in the world.


In recent years there has been an explosion in high frequency trading – thousands of transactions happen every second via computer algorithms. There has also been a huge increase in derivatives, making the volume of financial transactions increase to more than 70 times the size of the world economy. Many serious commentators believe this volume is dangerously large and destabilizing, and that many of these transactions are socially useless.

Many of the most speculative, risky and socially useless transactions are based on very small profit margins, meaning that even at the very low tax rates we propose, a Robin hood Tax would shrink the size of the market by reducing the profitability of the most risky transactions.

These are among the reasons why more than a 1,000 economists, including a number of Nobel laureates, support the Robin Hood Tax.

At the Robin Hood Tax Campaign we are principally supportive of an FTT because of the money it will raise to help repair the U.S. and global economies. However, if it also acts to reduce risky gambling and make the world economy safer that can only be a good thing.


No. The US had a financial transaction tax (the mechanism of the Robin Hood tax) for half a century, from 1914 to 1966.

Even the alternate name for the Robin Hood tax is named after an American, James Tobin, a U.S. economist who served on the White House Council of Economic Advisors and won the Nobel Prize in 1981. He proposed a tax very similar to the current proposal—though at an even higher rate to stop dangerous transactions.

In the aftermath of a 1987 U.S. stock market crash, then Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright introduced a proposal for an FTT for the U.S. stock market at 0.5 percent, the same percentage we propose today. The proposal had broad bi-partisan support from among others, President George H.W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Richard Darman.

Let’s bring the Robin Hood tax, to life in the U.S. today.

Text courtesy of

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Voices of Poverty: A Narrative Fri, 10 Oct 2014 22:56:02 +0000 Poverty in the United States is of a staggering scale, and becoming more entrenched by the month. Fifty million Americans live at or below the federally defined poverty line; a similar number survive on food stamps. Tens of millions more hover just above the poverty line, their lives dominated by insecurity, but deemed ineligible for government assistance.

Voices of Poverty was conceived, in conversation with the Open Society Foundations, as a way to tell the stories, in their own voices, of impoverished men, women, and children around America. My aim was to put together an audio archive containing the voices, and stories of America’s invisible poor.

Visitors to the site can listen to a growing audio archive of interviews, exploring many different gradations of poverty, causes for that poverty, and potential solutions to this crisis. Over the coming months and years, the site will grow to include stories from around the country. The site also contains national and statewide poverty data, as well as photographic archives documenting poverty.

As I have traveled around the country these past months, chronicling stories of hardship in 2011 America, three things have struck me with particular force:

The first is the sheer loneliness of poverty; the fact that poverty pushes people to the psychological and physical margins of society—isolated from friends and relatives, pushed into dilapidated trailer parks, shanties, or ghettoized public housing, removed from banks and stores, transit systems and cultural institutions. The poor live on society’s scraps—a few dollars in government assistance or charity, donated food, thrift store clothes. They can afford neither transport to venture out of their communities, nor simple luxuries such as movies or a cup of coffee with friends in a café, to vary the routines of their daily lives. Embarrassed by their poverty, many told me that they have essentially withdrawn from all but the most necessary, unavoidable social interactions.

The second thing that struck me is the diversity, the complexity, of poverty. Its causes, and therefore its potential solutions, cannot meaningfully be reduced to a pat list of features. There are people with no high school education who are poor; but there are also university graduates on food bank lines; there are people poor because they have made bad choices, gotten addicted to drugs, burned bridges with friends and family; and then there are people who have never taken a drug in their lives, who have huge social networks, and who still can’t make ends meet. There are people who’ve never held down a job, and others who hold down multiple, but always low-paying, jobs, frequently for some of the most powerful corporations on earth. There are people who have never had a bank account and use payday loans and other predatory lending sources whenever they need access to extra cash; and there are others who, during flusher times, owned huge suburban houses and expensive cars. There are children whose only hot meals are what they are given at school; young adults who have nothing now and never really have had anything earlier in life either; military veterans who have struggled to find a place in civilian life; middle-aged and once-middle-class people falling down the economic ladder as the recession fails to fully lift; and elderly people cascading into destitution as savings evaporate and expected equity in their homes fails to materialize.

Poverty is, in other words, as diverse as is America itself. What the poor have in common, however, is an increasingly hardscrabble existence in a country seemingly unable—or at least unwilling—to come to grips with their collective tragedy.

Yet if the lives of America’s poor are increasingly desperate, the desire to make something of those lives remains a force to be reckoned with. The third thing that struck me in my travels around the country is the sheer resilience of people who, battered by tough economic times, could be excused for thinking life never gives them any breaks. Instead, many of the men and women I talked to were doing everything they could to ensure that their futures would look brighter than their pasts.  They were going to school, taking job training classes, looking for any and every source of income, struggling to make sure that their kids had enough food to eat and little extras to enjoy. It was, in many ways, a humbling, inspiring experience.

Some of these people will, indeed, succeed; they will be the ones who pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps. Yet millions of others, despite their best efforts, won’t. The problems confronting America, the scale of the poverty unleashed, is simply too large. They are problems that require tremendous social investments and political imagination. This is America’s challenge-of-the-moment.

In seeing the size of the challenge, my hope is that site visitors will be stimulated to place poverty back where it belongs: full-center in the American political debate. That fifty million Americans live in dire poverty, their economic security shattered, their prospects dim, ought to trigger both outrage and creativity: outrage that such a situation has been allowed to fester, to grow, for so long; creativity in that solutions to these problems have to emerge at every level of society—amongst the political classes, but also at the grassroots; amongst regulators and policy innovators, but also in classrooms, in community credit unions, in union halls and amongst the poor themselves.

The more time I have spent immersing myself in this project, the more I have come to believe that this is a challenge with existential significance. It’s not just about dollars and cents; it’s about our collective values, our priorities, our sense of justice.

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From A Reader Thu, 11 Sep 2014 20:23:33 +0000

Mr. Madison Payne, a World War II veteran and US marine who had been at Nagasaki and Hiroshima not long after the atomic bombs fell called The Reader Magazine office and left this message asking to be sent 10 copies of the issue devoted to the abolition of nuclear weapons so that he could “give them to his children and grandchildren”.

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